Sunday, August 31, 2014

Yankees Can't Afford To Put This One In The Ell Column

When Jacoby Ellsbury and the Yankees agreed to a seven-year, $153MM contract this past offseason, a very loud, "WHAT?" was said in unison in the baseball world. For Jacoby Ellsbury? The guy who had one very good season and was known more for his injury plagued years. That Jacoby Ellsbury?

It's only the first year of his contract, but the Yankees would be nowhere without Ellsbury, unquestionably the team's MVP. (Masahiro Tanaka would have been in the mix had he not injured his elbow - be very glad they are shutting him down now after he experienced soreness in his elbow after his latest rehab throw.)

Ellbsury had the misfortune Friday night to slide into the league in the leg of Toronto Blue Jays' catcher Dioner Navarro. Not only was Ellsbury out at the plate, but sprained/jammed his ankle. Tests results came back negative, but Ellsbury is hurting. He sat out Saturday's game with Toronto, and though he feels he'll play on Sunday, a conservative Joe Girardi is more likely to give him another day off. Especially since the Yankees have their next to last off day on Monday.

It's an especially painful loss for a team that has had trouble scoring runs all season. The former Red Sox outfielder has been on a tear of late - 11-22 (.500), 4 HR, 9 RBI, 6 runs in his last six games - and entered Sunday leading the team with 64 RBI and 37 steals, and is second to Brett Gardner with 64 runs scored.

Like everyone else, Ellsbury has had his dry spells too. He hit just .231 in May with a .664 OPS. But as the race for the second wild card has heated up, so has Ellsbury. In 25 starts and one substitute appearance in August, his slash line is .317/.360/.525 with 5 HR, 16 RBI, 9 SB (without being thrown out), 32 hits, and 13 runs scored. Girardi has used him primarily in the three-hole in the lineup this season, but as of late has inserted him into the lead off spot. Ellsbury has a robust .926 OPS at the top of the order, compared to a .728 OPS batting behind #2, Derek Jeter in the two-hole.

Over the years, many teams have thrown left-handers at the Yankees so as not to let them take advantage of the short porch in Yankee Stadium's right field, but Ellsbury has hit better - nearly .100 points higher in his OPS - against southpaws rather than right-handers. Sunday's game is no different, though it's on the road. The Blue Jays have lefty J.A. Happ scheduled to make a start. The Yankees can only hope the first batter he faces is Jacoby Ellsbury. Otherwise, the Yankees are already going into the game trying to come from behind.

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